Flights from hell: Our horrendous journey from Thailand to Sri Lanka
Flights from hell on Christmas Eve
Flights from hell: Hello from Sri Lanka! Our full time travelling family has hopped across the Indian Ocean from Thailand to this little emerald tear-drop just underneath India.
We had, undoubtedly, the worst journey that we’ve had on our travels, and actually it was possibly the worst journey that anyone has ever had, ever, in the history of the world. Possibly.
Flights from hell: Part 1
Let’s begin, shall we? Christmas Eve, about to leave the Thai-Burmas border for Sri Lanka. Spirits were high, we’d booked a lovely little house about ten minutes from the beach (hurrah for space! hurrah for sunshine!) and our taxi was pulling up at our hotel.
My phone pinged. Great, I thought, this must be the host replying to our request for an airport pick up.
“Hello”, I read. “I have a small problem with booking.com; they booked two families and the house isn’t available.”
Now please bear in mind that the taxi is outside our hotel, we are about to leave WiFi signal and our first flight from the border to Bangkok, where we catch our next flight, is in three hours.
“We booked the house weeks ago,” I typed, “how can it not be available?”
“It’s not our problem, it’s booking.com problem” comes the reply. “But you can come here anyway as we might have another house and we can discuss.”
Some context: I have a temper. It lives out back, on a short leash, and I try not to feed it. But it’s there. I gritted my teeth.
“We land at 1am on Christmas Day with a 6, 5 and 2 year old” I replied. “I am not driving three hours to have a ‘discussion’. Do you have another house or not?”
I typed a frantic Facebook message to the only person I knew of in Sri Lanka; a friend of a friend, asking if she knew of anyone that had spare property to rent, anywhere in Sri Lanka. The car packed and a flight looming, we got in the taxi and headed to Mae Sot airport.
Flights from hell: Part 2
At least, I think it was an airport. There was a hut selling coconut chips, Pringles and coffee, and we stocked up on all three. We headed into the one room that held one desk, with a blank-looking woman, and a luggage scanner that looked like it was purchased from Aldi’s reject stock.
Five flights into our trip, we thought we knew the drill for luggage. Because the kids’ bags are smaller than the permitted hand luggage, they don’t reach the maximum allowance, and in any case they couldn’t carry 7kg each. So Patrick’s, Mum and my bags were all a kilo over. Most airlines take one look at the chaos that is our family, and wave us through, but this woman from Nok airways was having none of it.
She made us rearrange every single bag, repack the extra kilo into our checked luggage, pay extra for the privilege and insist that the kids carry their own 7kg bags. After an hour of packing, chucking bits out, scanning, re-packing and re-scanning, all while a tannoy announced that our flight was boarding and with three hot and sweaty kids trying to play with x-ray machines and asking for MORE JUICE and declaring various urgent toilet situations, our nerves were a tad fragile. The only thing that stopped me flinging myself into the propellors of our plane was a message from a Christmas Angel, the friend of a friend who I’d sent an SOS to earlier, inviting us to stay with them. At least we wouldn’t be homeless on Christmas, even if our blood pressure was reaching untenably high levels.
We finally headed to the plane, which looked as if it had been made by a half-blind monkey with an AirFix kit and a box of matchsticks. An hour later, we landed in Bangkok, and thought our trauma was over.
Flights from hell: Part 3
The Pringles and coconut chips were long gone and having left plenty of time until our flight, we went and had dinner, moseyed around the airport, and generally killed time. When we thought it was about time to check in, we searched for a notice board for our gate number.
It was odd- not only was our flight number not there, the airline wasn’t either. After wandering around puzzled for a while, I showed one of the ground staff our boarding passes. She looked puzzled too, then panicked, and called her colleague over.
“You at wrong airport”, she said. “You need other Bangkok airport.”
Here’s a fun fact for you: Bangkok has two airports.
Queue us re-creating that scene in Home Alone, where the family are late for their flight on Christmas Eve and have to leg it through the airport- I’ll take some credit for not leaving one of our kids behind, but that was the only upside to this whole palaver. We hailed two cabs and flung a wad of notes inside to get them to tear across to Bangkok’s other airport-the one that we were indeed flying from to Sri Lanka.
Flights from hell: Part 4
We got there, relieved, with just enough time to check in, and handed our passports to a sour-looking woman at the desk.
“Where is your onward flight ticket?” she asked.
“The Sri Lanka visa commission says we don’t need an onward ticket, just enough funds to purchase one,” we explained. “We already have our Sri Lankan visa, too.”
She shook her robot head. “No”, she said, “You need onward ticket. Not commissioner rules; airline rules. No onward ticket, no board plane.”
And so the horror continued. We had to rush to the information counter to log onto the airport WiFi, get onto Skyscanner, take a wild stab at when we would want to leave Sri Lanka (we had between 1 and 3 months on our visa, so we went for 2) and find the cheapest appealing flight out of there (Chennai, India, we will see you in a couple of months!)
Ok, so we had our tickets booked – resentfully, but undeniably, booked.
When the check in woman went to type in our ticket number, she couldn’t find it, as if the flight from Sri Lanka to India didn’t exist. We had five minutes until boarding.
I thought about the prospect of missing our flight to Sri Lanka, and being stuck in Bangkok without a visa or anywhere to stay on Christmas Eve, and having just booked flights from Sri Lanka to India in two months’ time that would now be redundant- and burst into tears.
The two women, allergic to human emotion, sent us to yet another counter (this was now 10pm at night and the kids needed to be unconscious ASAP) to get them to find the ticket numbers needed for check in.
We got them. When we returned, the two women who had been dealing with us had left and closed the check in desk.
I did what any reasonable person would do at this point, tracked them down and dragged them to the ‘suitcase wrapping’ station, where I mummified them in clingfilm and shoved them head-first onto the luggage conveyor belt.
In my dreams. What actually happened was that finally, FINALLY, a normal, reasonable member of ground staff (she will be easy to spot as the airport only has one) checked us in and didn’t require our ticket number and visa stamp and DNA codes and the name of our first pet to get on the plane.
We legged it- and I mean legged it- through the airport, wheezing and sobbing and hating everything.
We got on the plane; that beautiful, beautiful plane, where the kids fell asleep and I watched Suicide Squad and went almost euphoric over the vegetable curry and apple juice that surprised us in the middle of the night (we almost never get free airline food anymore!) and that took us to this vibrant tropical isle of Sri Lanka.
And it was there that we met our Christmas Angels, Sam and Mark, who I will tell you all about in the next blog.
Merry Christmas everyone, and I hope you’re having a fabulous one. Xx